A Ghost of Christmas Past

I have had the album Merry Soul Christmas by George Conedy in my library since at least 2007. I downloaded it from somewhere, back when vast numbers of pirated albums were available online, back before the feds took down Megaupload. It’s a churchy and swinging album of keyboard quartet jazz arrangements, with enough R&B grease to make it tasty.

And it might also be the single most obscure album I’ve ever come across.

Merry Soul Christmas was released on the Kent label out of Los Angeles. Kent was a subsidiary of Modern Records, the R&B label founded by the Bihari brothers. This Kent singles discography shows releases beginning in 1958. B. B. King was its most prolific artist over the life of the label; in the late 50s and early 60s, it put out singles by Etta James, Jesse Belvin, Elmore James, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy McCracklin, and Bobby “Blue” Bland. In the mid-60s, it released singles by Ike and Tina Turner, Lowell Fulson, and Z. Z. Hill while continuing to put out King releases. It even put out a version of “Merry Christmas Baby” by Charles Brown (versions of which appeared on other labels, too). The last listing on the Kent label is dated 1971.

The only single I can find with George Conedy’s name on it was released on the Kent Gospel label, which mostly distributed recordings made by other, smaller labels. The single is a strange one: it has Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” on one side and Conedy’s “El Niño del Tambor” (“The Little Drummer Boy”) on the other. It’s Kent Gospel 3003; a brief Kent Gospel discography I found shows releases 3002 and 3004, but not 3003. “El Niño del Tambor” is, as best I can tell, the same performance as the track labeled “Drummer Boy” on Merry Soul Christmas, although it’s about 30 seconds longer. (The Holiday/Conedy single is obscure enough to have stumped our man Larry Grogan, and that takes some doing.)

For a long time, I suspected that the 1972 release date most commonly given for Merry Soul Christmas was incorrect. If Kent didn’t release singles after 1971, it seemed unlikely they’d keep putting out albums. But the Kent Gospel discography notes that the label operated between about 1971 and 1973. So I guess it’s halfway plausible that it could have brought out Merry Soul Christmas on Kent at that time. But Merry Soul Christmas is Kent 573, and this incomplete Kent album discography doesn’t show a Kent 573. To complicate dating matters further, it shows Kent 568, a B. B. King album, as being released in 1973. But my skepticism about the date was also based on nothing more than the vibe of the album, which feels a lot like similar recordings from the mid-to-late 60s.

A listing at something called the Hammond Jazz Inventory names the musicians on Merry Soul Christmas. But searching for information on them—bassist Horace Jones, drummer Elliott McKenzie, and guitarist Joe Youngblood—turns up nothing useful. There was a Chicago radio DJ named Joe “Youngblood” Cobb who recorded a bit around 1972, but there’s nothing to connect him directly to Conedy.

Hell, there’s nothing to connect George Conedy to anybody. If he ever recorded anything else, under his own name or as a sideman, there’s no Internet evidence for it. He’s a damn ghost, is what he is.

I am mildly surprised to note that Merry Soul Christmas is available at all the big streaming services. It’s packaged with the 1963 organ-jazz album Christmas With McGriff by Jimmy McGriff, but shown as copyright 2012 by Holiday Classic Records. The Holiday Classic Records page at CD Universe shows several compilations, all listed as “no longer available;” there’s a Facebook page for the label with nothing on it. My suspicion is that the label, while it existed, may have been doing manufacture-on-demand discs at the ragged edge of copyright infringement. There’s a thriving subculture of this kind of thing, especially involving artists or albums likely to appeal to a tiny number of listeners. Copyright holders often decide it would cost more to sue than they’d be likely to win, so they just let ’em be. (I’d expect them to care more about being pirated on the streamers than on a CD a dozen people might buy, but perhaps the money is too small there also.)

For what it’s worth, I’ve never seen a physical copy of Merry Soul Christmas, so maybe it really is a ghost. You can hear it at YouTube or listen to the version that includes the McGriff album on Spotify.

4 responses

  1. Interesting…this reminds me to watch again a great Christmas song documentary called Jingle Bells Rocks..about a mans obsessive?..quest for obscure Christmas music..actually quite good..it available on Amazon.
    Hey I’m watching Jingle Bell Rocks!. Check it out now on Prime Video!
    https://watch.amazon.com/detail?gti=amzn1.dv.gti.98a9f756-3f2d-0d0c-b1b9-a6b9cc698d58&ref_=atv_dp_share_mv&r=web

    Merry Humbug!!

  2. I actually HAVE seen physical copies of this George Conedy LP. I’ve passed it by because it frankly looks a little schlocky, but may just buy it based on your writeup. As for Kent Records, they remained in business at least through 1978. At the beginning of the 70s, they signed the comedian Rudy Ray Moore, and that was basically how they got through the decade after the hits stopped. Moore and his various associates (Lady Reed, Gregory Tutt, etc.) issued a steady stream of LPs. Around ’77-78, they started a blues label called Big Town, issuing new albums by Joe Turner, Lowell Fulson, Joe Houston and others. Then, after a few dormant years, Kent reestablished itself in 1984-86, reissuing older R&B tracks from B.B. King, Young Jessie, Ike & Tina Turner, and others.

    There is a documentary on Crown Records (one of Kent’s sister labels). Haven’t seen it yet, but I am looking out for it…

  3. It’s listed at Discogs and apparently doesn’t cost an arm and a leg yet.

    https://www.discogs.com/George-Conedy-Merry-Soul-Christmas-George-Conedy-At-The-Hammond-Organ/release/6444758

  4. “Some web searching turns up very little else on Mr. Conedy, except for a page about
    The Antelope Valley Inter-Denominational Crusade Choir.

    Their information places him in the choir’s backing band as recently as 1997, at their 2nd anniversary concert held at Highland High School in Palmdale, CA.

    (Addendum, 7/2/08; Information has recently come through via a family member that George Conedy passed away “a few years ago”.)”

    https://learning2share.blogspot.com/2007/12/george-conedy-at-hammond-organ-merry.html

    “Through some research, Conedy’s exact date of death might be July 21, 2003 in Little Rock (LA County), CA”

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